Timelines and Historical Creationism

by , July 28, 2014

In history, as in fiction writing, where you decide to start your narrative plays a major role in shaping your story. The story of the causes of a particular historical event can be shaped by the historians and writers who have access to the media and publishers depending on where they decide to start their story.

In North America, the interpretation of current events provided to the public is often manipulated by selecting a convenient starting point that amputates prior events that would inconveniently alter the causal narrative. This amputation is made possible by a doctrine of historical creationism that sees current events as, not evolving, but emerging ex nihilo, out of nothing. Events are described, not in a context, but as discrete events that spring spontaneously and causelessly from an ahistorical past.

Several of the most important current events are being interpreted for the public according to this doctrine of historical creationism that ignores both immediately prior events on the timeline and more distant historical events.

So in Ukraine, the crisis is narrated as if the first event that caused the crisis was President Yanukovych’s change in stance from an economic alliance with the European Union to an economic alliance with Russia. Starting the story here portrays Yanukovych’s policy as a betrayal of his people that justified the rebellion against his government.

But the story cannot start here. As any philosopher or psychologist will tell you, there must be a cause of Yanukovych’s decision. Amputating that cause allows the story to be narrated in a manner that suits Western policy; reattaching that cause makes the story less palatable to the Western media.

According to Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, the European Union and the United States rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to allow both Europe and Russia to help Ukraine. The western powers demanded that Yanukovych choose one of Europe or Russia.

The West then presented an offer with terms and conditions that made it impossible for Yanukovych to choose them. The European Union offer demanded economic reforms and an International Monetary Fund dictated austerity plan that would, at least, throw Ukraine into a recession. Russia offered $15 billion in loans and discounted natural gas.

So moving the causal narrative back just one step changes Yanukovych’s betrayal of his people that justified rebellion to a decision made in the interest of his people that led to a western manipulated rebellion.

Historical creationism also makes possible the narration of the Ukraine story as if it is a discrete event devoid of historical context. When Germany reunified, the administration of George H.W. Bush promised Gorbachev that NATO would move no further towards Russia’s borders. In violation of this promise, the U.S. and NATO have brought twelve allies of the former Soviet Union into NATO.

This historical context entirely changes the appearance of Russia’s actions and concerns. In addition to unpopular austerity measures, the European Union’s offer also included "‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO." With an historical context, Putin’s responses are no longer the starting point that are forcing the West to react, but reactions to western aggression. In violation of American promises made to Russia, the US and NATO are not only moving nearer Russia’s borders but are in the very heart of Russia’s "near abroad."

A similar analysis can be applied to current events in the Gaza Strip. The western media’s starting point for this narrative is the killing of three Israelis by Palestinians and the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

But this narrative timeline ignores events both immediately prior to the horrific triple murder and immediately after it.

An event that immediately preceded the murdering of the Israelis is seldom, if ever, included in the Western narrative. The event reveals that the cycle of murders of innocent children did not begin with the Palestinian murder of the three Israelis teenagers. In May, security camera footage showed two teenage Palestinian boys being shot to death by Israeli soldiers at a West Bank protest for hunger striking prisoners despite neither of them presenting a threat. Obviously, that does not make the Palestinian murder of the Israelis – or the subsequent, apparently, revenge murder of another Palestinian boy – okay, but it may change the causal narrative.

After the disappearance of the three Israeli teenagers, Israel launched a search for them, though, according to many sources, they already knew they were dead. During that search airstrikes were carried out, hundreds of houses and buildings were raided, hundreds of Palestinians were arrested without charges and several were killed. It is only then that Hamas began the launching of rockets into Israel. As in the Ukraine narrative, reattaching that prior event alters the causal narrative.

Also like the Ukraine, there is also a more distant historical context that changes the story from a discrete historical event that sprung into being without causes to a part of an historical evolution. That historical context begins with the latest failure of peace talks that preceded the current crisis. Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, says that a previously proposed framework under which the Palestinians agreed to make major concessions, was rejected by Israel. Among the terms of that framework: Israel would recognize a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders with mutual adjustments, the Palestinian state would demilitarize, Palestine would give up the right of return in exchange for international assistance in helping refugees to resettle in the new Palestinian state, and Israeli troops would remain at border crossings between Palestine and its Arab neighbors until international forces replaced them.

The frustration over this failed round of talks to establish a two state solution joins the historical context of the events of 1948 and 1967.

A third important current event is the extension of, but failure to reach, the July 20 deadline in the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. The negotiations faltered over the level of Iran’s capability to enrich uranium and over how long the agreement would last before Iran was treated as a regular signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran insists on the right to produce only the amount of uranium they need; the US and the rest of the P5+1 are demanding that Iran produce less and acquire the rest of what they need from another country.

Devoid of an historical context, this Iranian demand seems like intransigence that is masking a clandestine reason for enriching uranium. If all they want is what they need for civilian purposes, why not get the rest from other countries?

But Iran, unlike the West, does not suffer from historical amnesia: they are not historical creationists. The Iranian negotiators remember that when the enriched uranium they had acquired from Argentina in 1988 had nearly run out, they went to the International Atomic Energy Association to request help in purchasing a new batch of 19.5% enriched uranium so they could keep their hospitals functioning only to see the US and Europe block them from making the legal purchase. In Manufactured Crisis, Gareth Porter also traces the history of America’s pressure to persuade France not to provide any enriched uranium to Iran despite Iran’s intent to continue relying on Western Europe for enriched uranium instead of enriching their own.

The reattachment of the relevant historical context aborts the doctrine of historical creationism and turns the Iranian negotiators from intransigent actors who must be hiding a clandestine nuclear weapons program into rational actors who remember the last time they agreed to the same Western demand to rely on foreign nations to supply their enriched uranium.

Historical creationism makes possible the explanation of a current event as a discrete event that arose ahistorically out of nothing without causes. This explanation allows the narrative to begin at a convenient causal starting point. And that narrative allows the story to be explained to the public in a misleading way that is consistent with the way Western foreign policy needs the story to be told. But citizens of those other countries see their current events, not as historical creationists, but as people with historical memories, because it is their history that they are remembering.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.

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